A New Neighborhood Wins Over a Couple

Closet switches and a “must-have” kitchen range lead a Financial District gut renovation

Financial District renovation, apartment renovation, home, design, construction

  • Homeowners: Sonali and Shalaj posted their Financial District renovation on Sweeten
  • Where: the Financial District in Manhattan
  • Primary renovation: Gut renovating a 1970’s-era 2-bedroom, 1-bath apartment
  • Sweeten general contractor
  • Sweeten’s role: Sweeten matches home renovation projects with vetted general contractors, offering guidance, tools, and support—for free..

Financial District, renovation, apartment renovation, home, design, construction, homeowners, dogs
(Above) Sonali and Shalaj with Tyson and dog-sitting his girlfriend, Izzy

Falling for a new Manhattan neighborhood

Sonali, a consultant, and Shalaj, an investment banker, were initially unsure about their move to the Financial District in Manhattan, but soon found themselves falling in love with the neighborhood. “We enjoy going on long walks along the river and just exploring the shops and restaurants in the area,” Sonali said. One night, while walking their cocker spaniel, Tyson, the couple discovered the Southbridge Towers complex, which had recently been privatized. Although they hadn’t considered buying before, the building piqued their curiosity. They started going to open houses and putting in their bids but were outbid several times before finally being accepted for a 2-bedroom, 1-bathroom co-op. “Truth be told, we were not expecting our offer to get accepted!” Sonali said.

floor plan sketch of rooms before and after renovation

As the two settled into their new roles as homeowners, they said, “reality hit” and they realized the apartment (with its original ’70s design) would need a complete overhaul: a gut renovation. “We had no idea where to start,” Sonali said. Luckily, that’s when they found Sweeten and decided to post their Financial District renovation.

Financial District, renovation, apartment renovation, home, design, constructionFinancial District, renovation, apartment renovation, home, design, construction

“We needed to renovate the entire apartment, including the removal of the original popcorn ceiling. We wanted a contractor who would not only handle all aspects of the renovation but also fit within our tight budget and schedule,” she said. The project would also include knocking down walls, which required permits from both their building and the city. They were matched with a general contractor who was comfortable with their project scope and timeline.

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Expanding the kitchen, and compromising along the way

Sonali and Shalaj agreed that the most important change to tackle would be opening up the kitchen. “We both enjoy cooking and having friends over, so we knew we would be spending a lot of time in there,” Sonali said. They decided to remove a kitchen wall to open the space into the living room and make the whole apartment feel less cramped. They went with a white-on-white design, with white cabinets, a white subway tile backsplash, and white quartz countertops throughout (which Sonali called “exquisite”).

Instead of installing a microwave over the gas range, they opted for a drawer-style instead. “It reminded Shalaj of years of renting!” Sonali said. Another item they really wanted was a Wolf gas range. “It was way beyond our stove budget, but when our contractor told us about a discounted floor model, we decided to splurge on it,” she said.

Financial District, renovation, apartment renovation, home, design, construction

An unexpected delight in the kitchen was the under-cabinet LED lights with dimmers, suggested by the contractor, which both added charm and accentuated the white subway tile backsplash.

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During the process, the couple found they had to compromise on certain elements. For example, because of the location of the gas line, they couldn’t move the stove away from the peninsula as originally planned. Sonali found the silver lining, though: “We like that the stove is in the peninsula now because it allows us to cook and interact with guests when we have them over!” They spent most of their effort and money on the kitchen. “We have not regretted any of our decisions yet,” she said.

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Adding closet space to the co-op

The next renovation priority was to double the closet space in the master bedroom by taking the adjacent guest bedroom’s closet; the second bedroom got a new one of its own built. “In our last rental, Shalaj was relegated to the living room closet, so having enough storage space in the master bedroom was pretty high on his list of priorities,” Sonali explained. Shalaj wanted to install lights in their custom closets, but once they realized this addition would add thousands of dollars to their renovation costs, they decided to buy battery-operated lights instead.

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A bathroom refresh & pet-friendly wooden flooring

The couple decided to close up the living room closet and have it open inside the bathroom. This change added storage to the bathroom and got rid of wasted space in the hallway. Like the kitchen, the bathroom was also mostly white. To add contrast and character, they installed black hexagonal floor tile. “We get complimented on it a lot!” Sonali said.

Throughout the rest of the apartment, the contractor installed wide-plank, oak hardwood floors. Sonali described the color as “not too dark, not too light” and loves that it blends with Tyson’s fur—something relatable to any pet owner.

In terms of choosing materials, Sonali said that the couple had no idea how many choices there would be or how much it could end up costing. That’s where their contractor came in: “To help us work through our sticker shock, our contractor had carefully built a list of items in three categories (budget, standard, and high-end) and supplied samples, to the extent possible. From there, our job was mostly to choose one of the three options provided, which made life so much easier for us,” she said.

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Lessons learned from the Financial District renovation

The most stressful moment of the renovation came a week before the couple was supposed to move into their new apartment. None of the appliances had been installed, there was paper all over the floor, and the electrical work had not yet been started. Since they were unable to stay in their old apartment, they worried they might not have anywhere to go. The Sweeten contractor reassured them the process wasn’t very far behind schedule, and sure enough, they were able to move in on time.

“Our contractor took great control of the project, from getting building approval to ensuring that we could meet the move-in deadline.” She added, “We had heard horror stories about how long renovations can take, but working with an experienced and responsible contractor makes the process much smoother.”

The couple’s advice to new renovators? “A friend of ours had advised us to set aside a 30% buffer on top of our budget. The advice came in handy as that was almost exactly the amount we went over by.” Extra costs included a few items outside the original scope such as replacing the AC unit and also spending more on kitchen materials than had been initially planned.

Sonali said, “We love our new space and feel lucky to find a home in our favorite neighborhood and to add our personal touch to the layout and materials.”

Thank you, Sonali and Shalaj, for sharing your new home with us!

Renovation Materials

KITCHEN RESOURCES: Pinnacle Plantation Hamptons 8″ wide oak floors, #PLT808: DWF. Kitchen cabinets: Custom by Sweeten contractor. Atlas Hardware Successi cabinet pulls, A832-MC: Build.com. Statuario Nuvo countertops, 511: Caesarstone. Whisper White backsplash tile, 3″ x 6″: The Builder Depot. Sink and faucet: Kraus. French-door 17″ cubic foot refrigerator,#RF170ADX4_N: Fisher Paykel. 500 Series dishwasher, #SHP865WD5N: Bosch.  30″ gas range, GR304: Sub-Zero/Wolf. 24″ built-in microwave drawer, #SMD2480CS: P.C. Richard. Glossy range hood, #33GLAS30SS300-B: Faber. Barstools: Wayfair.

BATHROOM RESOURCES: Mode Hex porcelain bathroom floor tile, 11.8″ x 13.6″: Ottimo Ceramics. Rittenhouse Square bathroom wall tile: Daltile. Grohe Parkfield sink faucet: eFaucets.com. Delta Vero shower fixtures in Brilliant Stainless, #T17253-SS: Wayfair. Santa Rosa 1.28 gpf toilet and Verdera medicine cabinet, 40″ x 30″: Kohler.

BEDROOM RESOURCES: Accent wall paint in Hale Navy, other walls in Chantilly Lace: Benjamin Moore.

Elizabeth updated her Financial District half-bath to become a full-bathroom meets utility space.

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